Like many of you here, I’ve been going to Mass since I was a baby, but I wonder how strange it would be to have no familiarity with the Catholic Church whatsoever, and just walk in. Imagine that for a second. You’d probably have no idea what’s going on! People are standing up and down and genuflecting and kneeling like they just can’t get comfortable in these soft wooden pews. Music is being played, with the greatest hits from the 1700’s all the way to the 1970’s and up to today. Some guy is in the front wearing what looks to be a large, ornate poncho. Sometimes words and phrases are spoken from a language that’s been dead for a out 1000 years. (Watch what you say, though, because every time somebody says, “Latin’s a dead language,” a seminarian or young priest falls over dead somewhere.) And you’re in a building that’s aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, but who the heck are all these statues of? Are they the ones who donated the money to build this thing?
When you think about what we’re doing here in that way, it’s pretty out of the ordinary, right? But really, that’s exactly the point! It is different from everything else we do. The music isn’t something we hear on the radio; it’s sacred music. The chalices on the altar aren’t cups; they’re sacred vessels. The clothes that I’m wearing aren’t just to keep me warm on those chilly 96-degree St. Louis afternoons; they’re sacred vestments. And this church isn’t just filled with things that look nice on the walls; they’re sacred art. You see, when we walk into the doors of this church, we’re leaving the ho-hum world of our daily lives and entering into a heavenly place, a place where, just for a few moments, the lines between heaven and earth become a little blurred.
Why do we need all this stuff? Why do we surround ourselves with all these things? Jesus even reminds us over and over again that “The Kingdom of God is within you.” And the most important thing that God asks of us is a contrite heart, just like Psalm 51 tells us. The essence of our faith is something interior. It’s that interior gift of our hearts, the interior and sincere acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. But…if that faith is really alive, it’s something external as well. The internal acceptance of the truth revealed to us leads to a radically profound external effect. So while we internally profess our faith, we express it externally.
Now think about how tough that is to do! Think about all that God promises us, and all that is asked of us. Yes, we’re told things like “I am with you always, even until the end of the age,” which are beautiful and comforting at times, but sometimes the truth is that we don’t feel like he’s with us. How do we know? Is it a little tingle in the stomach? Is it a burning sensation in our gut? What does it feel like that God is with us? So much of our faith is about the internal, but we’re external people! We like to see, and feel, and taste, and touch. But of course, who knows that better than the one who created us in the first place? And in some sense, that’s why we celebrate today. We celebrate the fact that the Lord’s fidelity, his love, his grace, his promise, is given to us in the real and true presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Let me be clear about this: the Eucharist that we receive is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. It’s not a symbol, it’s not a spiritual presence, and it’s not a pious platitude. The Church has always believed and taught, even from the very beginning, that it is the flesh and blood of Christ. But there’s a catch. It’s kind of tricky because we can see and touch and taste it, we can sense the Eucharist externally, but it looks, feels, and tastes like bread. We have our external senses, but we need our internal ones as well. If the Eucharist were simply an external thing, there’d be no substance to what we do here. It would be boring, like a scientific observation you write down on paper. It would be like a husband buying his wife a beautiful diamond necklace, and then saying, “Here.” See, we need to sense the Eucharist with the eyes of faith, with the hands of confidence, with the mouth of trust – not a trust of what our senses tell us, but of the presence of the Lord.
In that way, the Eucharist is the most perfect gift God could ever give us – a perfect mix of the internal and the external. And when we receive this gift and comprehend it even in the most basic level, it transforms everything else that we do – we realize what all our externals have been trying to tell us all along – that we’re in the presence of the sacred. The chalice is sacred because of what it holds. The windows and artwork are sacred because of what they remind us of. The actions of genuflecting, kneeling, even sitting are sacred because they aren’t done for each other, but for our King. Even the picnic going on outside becomes more than some fundraiser or an opportunity to waste money (for you parents), but a celebration flowing from the fact that God keeps his promise to be with us always. What we do here is not just a meal, not just a celebration, not just a community. It is a physical and spiritual encounter with the only Son of God.
Brothers and sisters, today’s feast is a great opportunity to push ourselves to go deeper. It’s an opportunity for us to ask ourselves why we’re here, what we come for, and to reflect on the answer that the Church gives us today – that we come to worship the Lord who makes his presence known to us in the most intimate and real of ways. May we be able to respond to him in faith from our hearts, and to express that faith in our words and actions.